70th Anniversary of Wideawake Airfield

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70th Anniversary of Wideawake Airfield

To commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Wideawake Airfield the Ascension Island Post Office is releasing a souvenir sheet featuring two classic aircraft, one from the 1940’s and one from the new millennium. Before work started on the airfield this area was home to Booby and Sooty (Wideawake) Tern colonies, hence the hill on the right side being called Booby Hill and the airfield called Wideawake. These birds would clearly like the area back and are also featured on the souvenir sheet against a background of the airfield from the 1940’s inspired by a painting by Peter Hurd, the great American war correspondent and artist.

Given the geographical position of Ascension Island, it was high on the list of sites for an airfield to be established by the United States when the Lend Lease Acts of the Second World War were being negotiated.

Once the agreement was in place, on 29 March 1942, 1300 workers from the United States Corps of Engineers arrived on the island to establish an airhead. With the construction of the airport, came an improved road infrastructure and by 12 June 1942, the runway was sufficiently advanced for aeroplanes to land. This was proved just 3 days later, when a Swordfish from HMS Archer became the first aircraft to land at Ascension Island and on 10 July 1942, the first American aircraft landed. By 14 August 1942, sufficient troops and equipment arrived by air from Brazil to form a new Ascension Island garrison.

With the airhead established, it became a centre for anti-submarine operations and the ferrying of aircraft to Europe and North Africa from the United States. After the War, the base remained important in both the missile and space races, when rockets and satellites were regularly tracked from this mid-Atlantic outpost. For the majority of time, Wideawake Airfield, was commanded by a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and his civilian staff, with groups augmenting his team when required.

For the United Kingdom, it was during the Falklands War of 1982 that Ascension’s airfield became critical as it was the forward operating base for the Task Force and for the launching of the RAF’s Vulcan Black Buck Raids. Under the command of the recently deceased Captain Bob McQueen Royal Navy and the airfield’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Bryden USAF, the airport traffic increased from an average of 24 .4 aircraft per month in the 12 months prior to April 1982 to 3,607 aircraft in April 1982 alone!

Post-1982, Ascension became part of the critical air bridge between the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands, supplying troops and supplies to the Falkland Islands garrison, initially using RAF Tristar aircraft as the main workhorses but in recent years these have been replaced with chartered commercial airliners. The RAF maintains a small contingent at Ascension to support these flights.

35p - Wideawake Tern

Locally called 'Wideawake' birds because of their loud, distinctive call, Wideawakes or Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) are graceful, swallow-like birds with a forked tail and slender, pointed wings. Adults, tend to be white underneath with a black back. The adult is around 18 inches long with a 3 feet wingspan. The birds have a white patch on their head which does not extend further back than the eye. Sooty Terns are migratory birds which are away from the island for three months of the year.

40p - Douglas Dakota

With a ferry range of over 3000 miles and operating range of over 1600 miles, the DC3 Dakota (and its military C47 Skytrain variant) were workhorse cargo aircraft of more than 90 countries’ Air Forces for over 40 years, having first taken to the skies in December 1941.

They could carry two and half tons of cargo or 28 fully equipped troops and more than 10,000 were built in the United States, Russia and Japan. Many remain in service commercially around the world. The reliability of this aircraft can best be attested by the well-known saying: “the only aircraft that can replace a Dakota is a Dakota!”.

£1 - Eurofighter Typhoon

The Typhoon was designed by a European consortium to be the world's most advanced multirole combat aircraft. It is a single seat, twin-engine fighter capable of operating against targets that are beyond visual range or in close combat. With a cruising speed of Mach 1.5 and a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, the aircraft has a range of 1800 miles. It can be armed with a variety of missiles, bombs, targeting and electronic countermeasures pods.

It entered front line service with the RAF in July 2005, has been combat proven with them over Libya and Afghanistan and in September 2009, the Typhoon replaced the Tornado F3 as the air defence aircraft over the Falkland Islands. The Typhoon is in service with 6 countries: UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Saudi Arabia, and it is likely that other countries will buy the aircraft in due course.

£1.50p - Masked Booby

The Masked Booby (Sula dactylata) is a large, robust seabird that is approximately 3 feet long, with a wing span of over 5 feet and weighing around 2lb. Adults are predominantly white with black tails, wing tips and wing trailing edges. They have long, pointed orange-yellow bills and their name is derived from the black mask around their eyes and bill. There are approximately 4,500 pairs on Ascension which is well suited to the breed, as they spend most of its life on the open ocean, returning to land only to breed and raise their young. They are known to forage for fish and squid up to 200 miles from the island and are the commonest of the three boobies on the island.

Different versions of the two aircraft stamps produced by a different printer will appear in the new Ascension Island Definitive due for release in early 2013.

Text by Gary Rimay-Muranyi

Technical details:
Designer:                   Robin Carter
Printer:                      Cartor Security Printing 
Process:                    Lithography
Stamp size:               30.6 x 38mm
Perforation:                13¼ x 13 per 2cms
Souvenir Sheet Size:  113 x 95mm
Release date:             5 December 2012
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd